Mental clarity, fitness, and good health are vital in racing, so a debilitating illness can threaten a professional racecar driver’s career as well as his health. We sat down with seven-time professional sports car racing champion Lawson Aschenbach to learn how he used personalized lifestyle medicine to help manage his Crohn’s disease and return to the winner’s podium.
Let’s start with your professional background. How did you get into racing?
I got into racing when I was 8 years old. My dad introduced my older brother and me to go-karting. It was a hobby at the time but quickly became my passion.
What is your schedule like? How much are you home? How often do you travel?
I’m on the road between 150 and 200 days a year. That could be for race weekends, testing, or PR events. It’s difficult to stick to a schedule when you’re always traveling, so preparation has become an essential aspect of my life. I have containers for all the supplements I’m taking, and everything is premeasured before I leave for every trip.
When I’m racing, I’m either at the track or the hotel. I might be practicing, qualifying, or racing on those days, but I stick to a strict schedule. I go to bed at the same time every night; I wake up at the same time every morning. I make sure my health, focus levels, and body are in line to perform at a maximum level.
When I’m home, it’s a straightforward routine. I wake up, get breakfast, and go work out. There are a variety of exercises I use to keep myself in shape during and after the racing season. My afternoons involve office work and family. I try to spend as much time as I can with my wife and daughter. I’m enjoying fatherhood. It was an incredible experience bringing a baby into the world, and my daughter just turned 2 in December.
You were diagnosed with Crohn’s disease. How long were you having symptoms before you were diagnosed? How did your diagnosis come about?
I initially started having digestive problems in middle school when I was 12 or 13 years old. After lunch, I would get embarrassing gas issues. It came out of nowhere and continued until I found the trigger, milk. Two cartons of milk were the daily lunch beverage at the time, and when I replaced it with something else, the issues stopped. It seemed strange to me that I could drink milk with no problems until that day.
Fast-forward to 2012 when I was experiencing continued gas, horrible bathroom experiences, dizziness, lethargy, a B12 deficiency, and insomnia. I wasn’t recovering from workouts either. It got to the point where this was starting to affect my career.
At one point I demanded a colonoscopy. I don’t know many people that would request one of those! But I had to get to the bottom of this, and sure enough, I immediately got a diagnosis of Crohn’s disease.
How old were you when you were finally diagnosed?
Twenty-eight. My disease progressed quickly until the diagnosis. And to make matters worse, that was a rough time in my life because the racing world had taken a considerable hit during the economic crash. Stress became a part of my issues, and I believe it advanced all my symptoms at a much faster rate.
In some ways, I’m glad it happened because it forced me to figure out my health issues. Not only was it affecting my career, but also my life.
How did your illness affect your racing? How did it affect your life outside of racing?
The most critical attribute in a driver is focus, and fitness is a big player in that ability. When you start getting tired, you start losing attention, and at 170 miles an hour, that can lead to disastrous results. Not to mention the fact that we’re in close quarters. We’re battling, trying to go for fast laps, and continuously searching for a split-second opportunity to pass someone.
When inflamed, I noticed my energy levels were declining. My workouts weren’t very promising, and the recovery times were slow. The combination of lack of sleep, lethargy, and consistent gastrointestinal issues created a lack of focus when I was in the car. When I was asked to do a two- or three-hour stint during an endurance race, I was having a hard time finishing it.
When things start happening, people take notice. It was a scary time. I knew I couldn’t continue this way for another season or else my career could end.
What was your experience with traditional medicine in treating Crohn’s disease?
Immediately after my diagnosis in early 2012, I was prescribed an anti-inflammatory pharmaceutical drug. My doctor mentioned that we needed to get to the bottom of this, or I was on the path to resection surgery to remove part of my colon. Talk about scared straight!
He said I was going to take a pharmaceutical for the rest of my life while throwing out some stat that 90% of all Crohn’s patients never get to complete remission. It was a frustrating thought, but anyone that knows me understands that I never back down from a challenge!
How long was it before you were introduced to medical foods and personalized lifestyle medicine as a management option for Crohn’s?
I did a significant amount of research after my diagnosis to try to figure out another way without taking pharmaceuticals. I was willing to do whatever it took. My symptoms were getting worse each day.
I reached out to a friend who learned of alternative methods to manage his battle with colitis. A nutritionist helped him manage his symptoms using diet and supplementation. He went from yearly hospital visits to living a more happy, healthy life.
I set up an appointment with the nutritionist, and that was my introduction to the world of lifestyle health plans and Functional Medicine. This was the turning point in my journey.
What was your experience with UltraInflamX Plus 360® Medical Food?
Within 24 hours of using the product, it was life-changing. Almost all of my gastrointestinal issues subsided, and I immediately felt like a different person.
I had a new lease on life, and my mood changed accordingly. I felt that I could tackle any race in the world, and I had the health to back me up! I can say, without a doubt, that UltraInflamX Plus 360 changed my life!
How have your life and your racing changed since you switched to a personalized lifestyle medicine approach to managing Crohn’s?
First and foremost, I have more energy. I’m recovering faster from workouts and races. I’m sleeping better, my focus level is at an all-time high, and, most importantly, my driving ability has been raised to a new level. Driving three-hour stints is no problem anymore, and I’ve been very fortunate to win four championships since being introduced to lifestyle medicine.
As a driver, we’re dealing with extreme temperatures-inside the car, it can be 130, 140 degrees. We don’t have a lot of driver comfort options, and our arms, legs, and head are constantly moving. It’s vital that you can zero in on what you’re doing, because you may only get one shot to pass someone during an entire race.
Nowadays, if there’s an opportunity, I’m going to take it. I’ve been fortunate to win a lot of races because of that desire and dedication. I feel I’m driving better than ever, and it’s showing in the results.
Lawson Aschenbach is a seven-time professional sports car racing champion. He started racing karts at the age of 8 and went on to win state, national, North American, and four Grand National Championships. In 2005, he finished on the podium in his first sports car race and then burst out onto the scene in 2006, winning the SPEED World Challenge GT Championship in his rookie year. Aschenbach has over 35 professional race wins and currently competes in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship and Pirelli World Challenge Series.